Three suspected kidnappers were arrested as security forces stormed a lair of armed men allegedly involved in abductions in Naga, Zamboanga Sibugay, early Saturday, a military spokesman said.

Soldiers and policemen encountered an undetermined number of armed “lawless elements” in Sitio Gangit, Brgy. Mamagon, around 3:30 a.m., Capt. Albert Caber, spokesman of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, said.

“Firefight ensued for 20 minutes, when the lawless elements fired upon the approaching government forces,” Caber said in a text message.

Halifa Omar, Batoto Abdusalam, who was wounded, and a certain Hader Magatos, who yielded a shotgun, were captured during the clash.

The three are believed to be members of a group led by Waning Abdusalam, Ogis Jakaria, and Putot Jakaria, who are all wanted for kidnappings, robbery, and extortion, Caber said.

Members of the Army’s 102nd Brigade and Special Forces, and some policemen, carried out the “law enforcement operation” on warrants, he said.

The fighting occurred as government troops are searching for Australian national Warren Rodwell, who was abducted in the adjacent town of Ipil last December.

It was not immediately known if the armed men involved in the clash are the same ones who abducted and are keeping Rodwell captive.

Last October, the government ordered an “all-out” hunt for Abdusalam and the Jakaria brothers, following deadly ambuscades against soldiers and policemen in Alicia and Kabasalan.

The attacks were believed to be in retaliation for previous operations against Abdusalam and his group.

Later that month, government forces mounted a campaign against Abdusalam, dropping bombs on his alleged lair in Payao.

The lair was overran after three days, but Abdusalam and his men were not found.

The military said it received reports that Abdusalam was still alive, though “badly wounded” in the clash, while police said he died in November. (John Roson)

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